WELSH CYCLING CHAMPIONS
As proudly stated on the head badge of this bicycle, George Ace was the Welsh cycling champion between 1879 and 1889.
Arthur Linton, seen in the 1896 photo below, demonstrating the Simpson chain, is quite well-known today as a Welsh cycling champion, as is his brother Tom and others who followed him. By the mid-1890s cycle racing was the dominant sport in the world, its popularity comparable to that of football today, and its champions enjoyed ‘celebrity status’ in the cycling press. But this overshadowed the earlier era of cycle racing, when penny farthings were used: although the champions of that time were well-known to cycle enthusiasts of the day, they missed out on the ‘celebrity status’ afforded the subsequent stars of the sport.
So although George Ace was the pioneer of cycling racing in Wales, his name is now mostly forgotten. The ‘George Ace’ Roadster featured here and the penny farthing he used for racing which is on display at Tenby museum – the photograph below showing George next to it – appear to be the only reminders of George Ace’s activities in the Victorian era.
1899 ‘George Ace’ Eadie Fittings Roadster
with Eadie Band Brake
28 x 1 3/4″ Wheels with Beaded Edge Rims
Frame No 31993
This George Ace Roadster uses Eadie fittings, the most dynamic feature being its band brake. In 1899, the Eadie Band Brake was a state-of-the-art means of rapid deceleration. In the late 1890s, the cycle industry knew that motorised transport would be an integral part of its future: as a result the leading engineers of the day focussed on improving braking technology for bicycles; what worked well on bikes could be adapted for motor vehicles. Band brakes had been used successfully on tricycles (notably by Humber and Quadrant), but the band brakes introduced in the the late 1890s were the first to be adapted successfully for two wheeled machines. The band brake patented by Eadie used a rod from the bottom bracket to activate it by pedalling backwards.
Two other braking innovations were introduced at the same time as the band brake: both were cheaper alternatives and just as effective in application. The coaster brake was an immediate success, and Bowden cable provided a very effective means of applying rim brakes. Rod-operated front and rear rim brakes were adopted by the cycle trade soon after. As a result, the band brake became obsolete soon after it was introduced. Only Triumph continued to offer it as an option on their ‘Imperial’ roadster.
My road test of the ‘George Ace’ finds it to be a heavyweight machine which was already somewhat outdated by 1899; its style and design – with a short top tube requiring an upright riding position – reminds me of a bicycle made around 1895.
Innovations in cycle design meant that bicycles became outdated every year. It was common practice for local businesses to purchase old stock through the trade that had been dumped by the quality manufacturers because they had to follow new trends. This machine is interesting because it’s an older style of frame built up with the latest components, including a large (52 tooth) chainwheel. My assumption is that when the best machines made by the top manufacturers would have been too expensive for many cycling enthusiasts, this model would have retailed at a lower price for the local market in Wales.
All British cycle makers (even local firms) were able to establish export markets through agents, and the export trade – though very competitive – kept many such businesses afloat so that they did not need to depend totally on local sales and repairs. This machine, featuring the latest Eadie braking technology, would have been an attractive proposition for a customer in the Colonies, and the model would have been current abroad for much longer than at home.
I found this machine in the USA. Newspaper cuttings that accompanied this bicycle show that Wm J Morgan, US champion and manager of the American team, was born in Wales; so I assume George Ace had contacts there. However, there would have been only a very limited export market to the United States because of the high US import tariffs on bicycles imposed to protect its own cycle industry.
‘A key figure in cycling back in the early days was George Ace, originally from Swansea; he moved to Tenby and was Welsh Cycling Champion from 1879 – 1889. George Ace began cycling as a lad and bought his first machine when he was 18. It had a wheel with a diameter of 55inches and on this bicycle George soon began setting records that stood for many years. In 1885 he rode for a wager from Haverfordwest to Tenby in 1hour 24minutes, not bad considering his bike weighed 40lbs and gears and tarmac were still unheard of. Later that year he became the proud owner of a Rover ‘safety ‘ bicycle on which he rode from Swansea to Tenby in 4hours 28minutes.
In 1884 a cycle club was formed with George as captain and Hon. Secretary, and the club headquarters at the Royal Hotel, Tenby. From then until 1893, annual cycle championships were held every August. During these times cycling became very popular in the town and over the years the Observer reported a great deal on the club and cycling in general. On July 26th, 1888 the Observer reported “All trades people in Tenby have kindly consented to close their places of business for the afternoon of August 22nd for the clubs Fourth Annual Championship”.
It reported on the 23rd August 1888 that during the championships held on the football field at the Clicketts “ Mrs W.J. Palmer gave a pleasing exhibition of some trick riding on a ‘safety’ bicycle”. On the 19th September 1889 the announcement was made that a Cyclists Torchlight or Illuminated procession would take place on the 25th August at 7:30pm, “Meeting at the gatehouse yard preparatory to going round the town, wind and weather permitting. All cyclists are requested to have their lamps lit and to rig up other illuminants on their cycles – as taste may suggest and discretion allow”. A similar attempt to arouse public interest was made on August Bank holiday 1893, when the cycle races were preceeded by a procession of cyclists in fancy costume round the town, and prizes awarded for the best costume.
At a public meeting in the Town Hall on the 23rd May 1894 the cycle club was re-organised to bring about a change of emphasis from athletic to club runs and from then on Tenby was involved in the nationwide bicycle boom. There were club runs in June, one to Saundersfoot and back, and others where members cycled to Kingsmoor, Redberth, Sageston and home via Ivy Tower and Gumfreston. These may not seem big distances nowadays but considering the machines they were riding back then, it was a real feat. Meetings were also held at the clubs new headquarters, The South Wales Temperance Hotel, St. Georges Street.
In July 1896 the Observer reported that view of the bicycle craze which is now in full swing in Tenby, it had been arranged that a cycling professional would write a weekly column in the paper. It also reported that during this time, came an indication to the emancipation of women, and moonlight rides with as many as thirty ladies and gentlemen were taking part.
Two new cycling clubs appeared in 1898, The Tenby United Cycling Club and The Westgate Cycling Club, the former stating it had many lady members. Around this time George Ace set up a cycle repair shop in Warren Street, and before long this enterprising cyclist was to be a pioneer of motoring and car sales in Tenby and in fact the Observer offices in Warren Street, and the Dentist opposite were once George’s showrooms.
George Ace died within two days of his 82nd Birthday, at his home in Warren Street, following a fall and then a seizure. His Penny Farthing bicycle, on which he set many records, can still be seen in Tenby Museum, Castle Hill.’ [http://www.tenby-aces.co.uk/tacc/index.php/history]
According to Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia, Tenby Cycle Works was established at both Tenby and Haverford, Pembrokeshire, in 1898, and made the ‘Ace’ and ‘En-y-Byd’. The company George Ace Ltd was incorporated on 16 December 1907, but it is not known when the company ceased trading.
There seems to have been a connection to the Tenby and Pembroke Cycle Co.
You can see an advert, below, for the Tenby & Pembroke Cycle Co, in the 23 September 1898 edition of The Pembrokeshire Herald & General Advertiser.
EADIE BAND BRAKE
Compare the second pattern Eadie Band Brake, pictured above, with the first pattern example on this bicycle, whose sprocket pattern is identical to the 1898 Eadie chainwheel.
George Ace info wth thanks to – http://www.tenby-aces.co.uk/tacc/index.php/history
Arthur Linton photo with thanks to – http://www.arthur-linton.co.uk
* text clippings reproduced here were sent to a previous owner of this bicycle in 1997, by Elizabeth King, researcher at Tenby Museum.